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The crime in the media – recent.

Alex Hassel KQTV story:



A very long and very comprehensive article from The Kansas City Star, Sunday, June 17, 2012 front page:

Kansas City Star, The (MO)
Section: News

Lee’s Summit man driven to help solve murder case from 1973
Lee’s Summit man is driven to help solve 1973 killing of young woman.
LISA GUTIERREZ, The Kansas City Star

The white ranch house with blue shutters has a windmill ornament on the lawn and rambling rose bushes out front. A candy bowl offers chocolates just inside the door. Little plush animals perch on the sofa back, and a Christmas village is lit on top of the TV, five months after the holidays.

It could be Grandma’s house.

But there are no grandchildren for the woman who lives here, the mother of Teresa Sue Hilt.

Teresa, so tiny at birth her aunt carried her like a crown jewel on top of a pillow …

Teresa, the high-schooler with the flowing blond hair, like one of those Breck Girls from the ’60s …

Teresa, the Northwest Missouri State University graduate student found naked and tortured on a bloody death bed near the campus in Maryville.

Her mother, an 85-year-old widow and two-time cancer survivor, keeps pictures of her only child all around the living room.

She has long prayed that her daughter’s murder almost four decades ago “would be solved during my lifetime, and hopefully it will.”

One day last month, two strangers brought her fresh hope.

From almost out of nowhere, driven by a long ago memory and wielding the Internet, Michall Holmes has picked up the hunt.

He and his wife, Katy, have come to this town of about 9,500 in Livingston County to meet Hilt’s mother and describe how, over the last three months, he has been searching for Teresa’s killer. As he sits with the mother — who is still so afraid after her daughter’s death that she insisted her name not be used— he makes a bold promise:

Whoever killed your daughter is a coward, and I will not give up until I find who did this.

The top police official in Maryville, Keith Wood, credits Holmes with “awakening” the case. Wood has gotten fresh offers from several law enforcement agencies to help sift through any leads. But he doesn’t share Holmes’ enthusiasm that a case already handled, and perhaps irretrievably spoiled, by so many investigators over the years will be resolved now.

Holmes is undaunted: “All this girl needs is a champion.”

Not a detective

A Sherlock, Holmes is not.

He and Katy have been married 17 years and live in Lee’s Summit. He is an audio visual services specialist for American Century. She manages a local CPA firm. At 59, he’s a church-going man, a golfer, a gardener and a home-beer brewer.

So why get involved?

A warm smile and a friendly laugh.

He remembers opening the Aug. 6, 1973, Kansas City Times over a breakfast of coffee and cigarettes. A seven-column headline accompanied by a pretty blonde smiling in the photo caught his eye.

“It jumped at me,” he remembers. “I saw the picture first, and I knew her.”

College Coed Found Slain in Maryville Apartment.

Three years earlier he had been a freshman at Northwest Missouri. “I got my stuff moved into this very little, cramped dorm and then went to get registered,” he recalls. “I didn’t know the campus.

“So I’m wandering around with big eyes, I’m sure, from a small town in Iowa, and the first person I met was Tess Hilt. And she just walked up and said, ‘Oh, can I help you?’ She was very kind. She walked me over to the administration building.”

She was petite, barely 5 feet, with a fun, flirtatious way about her, he says, a girl who “would just laugh at everything.”

The only child of a soldier and his bride who married in 1945, Hilt went to Chillicothe High School, where her senior yearbook — Class of 1969 — shows she dabbled in everything: band and Future Teachers of America and every other club — science, math, Latin, history, speech, glee. She was just as busy at college, working on the yearbook staff, playing in the marching band, serving on the Student Union board.

Hilt and Holmes weren’t even close friends, but it was a small school. They’d pass each other on the sidewalks, and there’ d be that smile. Holmes never saw her again after he left school his sophomore year.

In February, he and his wife were eating at their favorite Mexican restaurant, daydreaming about retirement.

What are you going to do when you retire? Katy asked.

I think I’m going to help solve this murder, he replied.

“He was really serious about it,” his wife remembers. “It was not just something like, ‘Oh well, this is what I’m going to do this week’ kind of thing. He really wanted to get it done.”

Why wait? she told him. Why don’t you just do it now.

No screams in the night

Describing how Hilt died, Wood reaches for just two words: “Violently … painfully.”

The file shows that death came between 2 a.m. and the daylight hours of Aug. 4, a Saturday. She was last seen in the apartment of a young man who lived in the same complex, College Gardens, just a block or so from the main campus. The nondescript brick buildings, standard-issue student housing, are still there and occupied today.

“They had been out socially the night before and had returned to his apartment, and two other young men stopped by,” the police officer says. “Those other two young men at some point leave. She goes back to her apartment as well.”

Before leaving, Hilt reportedly arranged to meet the young man when he got off work. The two were not dating, Wood says. The man, Edward Happel, was and is still considered a witness, not a suspect.

Sometime around 4 p.m. Saturday, Happel tried to call Hilt. Getting no answer, he went to her apartment.

Wood: “He knocks on the door, no answer. In his original statement he doesn’t remember if he turned the doorknob or just pushed on the door. But at some point the door opens, so it wasn’t secured or locked. He goes in, calls her name a couple of times.”

In the bedroom, he sees Hilt lying on the bed, her foot sticking out from under the covers.

He shakes her foot.

It’s cold.

Happel told authorities that he left the apartment immediately and called police. He was waiting outside the apartment when they arrived.

Crime scene photos show Hilt lying face-down, naked, on the bed. Her head is turned to the right, her pretty long hair disheveled and tangled around her face.

Her body appeared to have been posed. Her left arm lay straight at her side, her right arm was bent at the elbow and resting on top of her back — a paring knife with a 4-inch blade in her hand. No fingerprints were found on the knife, which police think came from Hilt’s kitchen.

She was strangled with a nylon stocking, her own, it was surmised. Ligature marks indicated her wrists had been bound, too.

She’d been stabbed. “The chest wound had one entry with multiple, eight different (jabs), like they never pulled the knife completely out and just re-stuck it up to eight times,” Wood says.

She was stabbed in the left arm and lower part of her body, too. The autopsy was inconclusive about whether she had been raped, but it did mention a possible bite mark on a breast.

Police theorized that Hilt was killed on the bed. “Other people who have looked at it more recently have questioned that, like could she have been killed in another part of the apartment, cleaned up, taken to that location? I wouldn’t rule that out,” Wood says.

The young woman’s wallet was found near railroad tracks south of the apartment complex. Did someone hop a freight after they killed her? Travelers’ checks belonging to her were found in the apartment parking lot. Was she going somewhere?

Hair samples found near her bed came from a person suffering from monilethrix, a disease generally found in South America that makes the scalp brittle and causes hair to fall out. The hair belonged to a person between 20 and 40 years old.

Why did no one hear her scream? The police sergeant who worked the case described “a heck of a struggle” — she had bruises on her left cheek and left arm, which was pierced five times — but no one recalled hearing anything.

The biggest mystery is this: What happened to the evidence?

Killers ‘do crazy things’

When Wood took over the department 16 years after Hilt’s murder, the physical evidence from the crime scene was missing. Bedsheets. The knife. Hair samples. DNA. Although he is not responsible, the situation is professionally embarrassing for Wood to even speak about.

He doesn’t even know if officers checked under her fingernails for the clawed flesh of her attacker.

Wood was getting ready for his senior year in high school in Columbia, Mo., that summer of 1973 when Hilt lost her life. He places the 1973 investigation into the context of its day. The state didn’t mandate basic training for peace officers until 1979. And the field of forensics was nowhere near as sophisticated as today.

He suspects the evidence could have been misplaced during a departmental relocation, or even that another law enforcement agency involved in the investigation has it, somewhere.

He had to rebuild the murder file from scratch. In 1993, he and a colleague took their information to crime profilers at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. The case is filed with the FBI’s Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, the largest investigative repository of major violent crime cases in the United States.

FBI profilers offered several possible scenarios. In one, Hilt’s killer was a man who mistook her flirtatious, gregarious ways as a come-on, “someone who was then angry that ‘you drug me along, drug me along, drug me along and now you’re saying no,’ ” Wood says. “That was the most probable.”

Another possibility: A woman did it. A woman who cleaned up the bloody scene and left Hilt neatly covered by the bedclothes. This was way too neat a job to have been done by a man, one investigator said early on.

“Another female that felt like she had stepped on their turf someplace, flirting with the wrong guy or whatever, and was angry,” Wood says. “I think that the more people that have looked at it, the more that one has been discounted. Just the nature of the wounds … some people find it hard to believe that another female could inflict that on another female.

“I don’t know if I adhere to that or not. People who kill do crazy things, that’s just the bottom line. You can’t always make sense of them.”

Web as a Watson?

Wood learned of Holmes’ activities in April from his dentist, a Maryville native who remembers the murder. He had been on Google with Hilt’s name and ran across new information online.

“I came back to the office,” Wood recalls, “found the Facebook page and said, ‘What the heck is this?’ It linked to the Defrosting Cold Cases site, and it just blew me away.”

It was Holmes’ handiwork. After deciding to pursue the case, he’d gotten help from a security officer at work in laying out his plan. On Hilt’s memorial page, , Holmes posted family pictures and decades-old newspaper clippings. Most detail her murder, others announce earlier, happier news, such as being named a “Little Sis” to the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity her sophomore year at college.

“If you know ANYTHING that can help solve this horrible crime please contact us. There is nothing too insignificant,” Holmes pleads on the page.

Her case was written up on the cold case blog. Founded in 2009, it is a mix of information for those who are intrigued by unsolved crimes, forensics and police talk. It wants to serve somewhat like the TV show “America’s Most Wanted,” which has led to the capture of many criminals through airing old photos of the suspects and fresh retellings of cases long gone from the headlines.

Since March, amateur sleuths on Defrosting Cold Cases seem to have stirred up little that is helpful. One woman last month latched onto the information about the diseased hair found at the scene.

“With my scientist/investigative hat on, my first question is, ‘How do they know?’ Ever the skeptic, I’m surprised to learn of these hair tufts,” she commented. “Assuming that the killer did have this disease, then what does this mean for the investigation? Firstly, and I think, most importantly, the killer would likely have a distinctive appearance. Surely someone would have noticed someone with an ‘unusual quality of hair.’ ”

The fact that the victim’s mother is still alive adds emphasis for some. Only after Holmes and Wood made contact did the policeman learn that. He’d last spoken to her in 1990, following up on a fruitless lead.

“I hope this produces something,” he says. “Stranger things have happened.”

Over the years, he and his officers have traveled to Kansas City and even Illinois to re-interview witnesses. “We have also talked about someday opening up our own cold case investigation to where we can get 8, 10, 12 investigators who can block off a week of time to give us on this case and do nothing but this,” he says.

“But again, getting that group of people together for that amount of time on a 40-year-old case is a needle in a haystack.

“I don’t believe that anything happens for happenstance,” Wood says. “This journey is happening for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is. We’ll take it to the end and see what it is.”

Maryville has seen five murders on his watch, all cases cleared. The capture of Hilt’s killer would be a “capstone on 35 years of law enforcement work,” he says. “I can just hang it up and go fishing or spend time with the grandkids.”

And if it’s never solved?

“I’ll die with it. It will be the one that I couldn’t get.”

The other victim

When Holmes met Hilt’s mother last month, he found a woman living in fear, in a house protected by a security system and a police scanner squawking day and night. She makes regular trips to the local sheriff’s office to get the list of sexual offenders in town because she wants to know “if they’re next door.”

She has her suspicions about who killed her daughter and shares all of them with Holmes. She harbors a lot of anger, still, over how the case was handled. She tells Holmes she thinks that police didn’t do enough to catch her daughter’s killer, a complaint shared with newspaper reporters back in the 1970s. That’s when she and her husband hired private investigators, who also came up empty-handed.

“I think we’re on the right path,” Holmes assures her. “But I recognize very clearly that this is going to be a long, difficult process. I think we’ll be successful. We’re just going to have to stick to it with the understanding that it’s not going to happen tomorrow.

“I should have started earlier, but I was busy raising kids and stuff.”

After meeting at her house, Hilt’s mother takes Holmes and his wife to where her daughter and husband are buried side-by-side. They walk silently down the row of graves, the older woman moving carefully with a cane. They stop in front of a tall monument, with a musical note and a mortarboard carved in relief on the corners.

“This puts it all into perspective,” Holmes says, asking for permission to take pictures for the Facebook page.

Teresa Sue” is chiseled on the stone, as well as “She was as good as she was fair.”

Even on a May day of summer-like breezes and brilliant sunshine, the white marble looks cold, as cold as this investigation.

But, perhaps, it is warming.


From the Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, July 27, 2012

  • By Tony Brown / Maryville Daily Forum
    Additional interview provided C-T Writer Drew Van Dyke.
    July 27. 2012 11:58AM
  • Maryville, Mo. — The trail that investigators hoped for decades would lead them to the killer who committed one of Maryville’s most sensational homicides has long since grown cold.Teresa Sue “Tess” Hilt has been dead for so long that most Nodaway Countians may never even have heard of the young Northwest Missouri State University graduate student who was found brutally murdered in her Maryville apartment back in 1973.”It will be 40 years on Aug. 4,” said mother, Mildred Hilt, who still resides in Chillicothe.Hilt’s body was discovered on Saturday, Aug. 4. The petite, blonde 22-year-old music student from Chillicothe had been stabbed multiple times, but apparently died from strangulation.”She majored in music, and got her masters in psychology,” said Mildred. She said that her only daughter’s Masters thesis was on alcohol and mental health, and that she often stayed out late, doing real-world research for such.”She said ‘That’s when you get all the real criminals,'” Mildred said. “I told her ‘You don’t need them.’ But she just went out and investigated people.”

    A blood-stained pairing knife was found near the body, and a nylon stocking was tied around the victim’s throat.

    The killing made headlines in the long-defunct Kansas City Times and other newspapers across the state, but the killer vanished. To this day authorities are unsure if the murderer was a man or a woman.

    When asked if she believed that Tess’ late-night research had anything to do with her death, Mildred said:

    “Absolutely. She knew they were out to get her.”

    Now, nearly 40 years later, an old classmate of Hilt’s has started looking for answers. Maryville Public Safety Director Keith Wood said in mid-June that a former NWMSU student named Michael Holmes, who lives in Kansas City, has decided to play amateur sleuth in an attempt to identify Hilt’s slayer.

    “He was from a small town in Iowa,” Mildred explained. “[Teresa] enrolled [at NWMSU] in ’69, and [Michael] was there in ’70. He was from a small town, and was lost in Maryville. Teresa walked up to him and asked ‘Can I help you?’

    “She loved to help people. She was so friendly.”

    Holmes has created a Facebook site (TeresaSueHilt TributePage) and is inviting anyone who may have information about the murder to tell him about it. The site, which claims thousands of hits, also advertises a $5,000 reward.

    “He was been wonderful,” Mildred said.

    • Wood said Holmes told him that his interest in the murder was rekindled after his wife asked how he was going to spend retirement. Holmes responded that he intended to “solve this homicide thing.”Holmes’ Facebook page has captured the attention of a website that features stories about unsolved crimes: The site contains a series of links containing information about the killing and subsequent investigation.In addition, the Kansas City Star recently featured a story about Holmes’ efforts to revive the case.As for Wood, the police chief said the case was already long cold when he came to Maryville in 1989. Still, he said, local peace officers have continued to work what few loose ends have emerged over the past two decades.Wood and former MPS investigator Randy Strong even traveled to the FBI training facility in Quantico, Va., a while back to study profiling techniques and personality clues they hoped might lead them to the killer.

      That effort, like those of dozens of peace officers over the decades, proved fruitless, and Wood said the case haunts him even though he was still a teenager living in Columbia when Hilt was killed.

      “As time has permitted we’ve tried to do some more work on it,” he said. “but unfortunately, still to no conclusion.”

      “I do appreciate everything,” Mildred said.


      From WOWT TV Omaha

      Posted: Mon 7:45 AM, Jul 16, 2012
      A A

      Video Update: Old Murder Case Helped by New Media


      Cold case investigators are now looking at a nearly 40-year-old murder mystery in an entirely new light. The perspective is possible through today’s social media technology.

      The case dates back 1o 1973. A Northwest Missouri State grad student, Teresa Hilt, was killed in her apartment just off campus.

      Those who knew the victim called her “Tess,” said friend Sherry Savage. “She loved to sing. She loved to sew. She wrote poetry.”

      Savage and others were stunned when they learned of Hilt’s death. It was an August morning. Investigators said Hilt had been visiting three male friends at an apartment across the courtyard from her own apartment.

      The 22-year-old was last seen alive heading back to her own place. It was there, her body was discovered by a friend. Hilt had been strangled and stabbed, left in her bed. While that friend is considered, by police, a witness to this day, it never led to anything investigators could use.

      Maryville police have had little more than reports and pictures of the crime scene. Most of the physical evidence passed between agencies and labs was lost years ago said Maryville’s Public Safety Director, Keith Wood. “It’s terribly frustrating. To gather any of that back up would be like adding gold to this case especially with the new technology.” So, the murderer’s identity has remained a mystery.

      But a former college classmate has given the investigation a new spark. “We’ve had about 28 tips come in,” said Michall Holmes, who created a Facebook page and e-mail address to try and find the coed’s killer. “This girl should be a grandmother today. She should have friends and family,” said Holmes. “Whoever did it probably does have all that, and its unfair, and its unjust.”

      Holmes described to police one of the biggest clues to come into the comment stream. ”A major tip came in from a fellow who believes he knows who did it and believes that individual told him he did it.”

      While being “social” to Tess back in 1973 meant playing her guitar in the courtyard, the term in today’s media goes much further. And those still grieving for Hilt hope that it helps find her murderer.

      • Click here to view the Facebook page dedicated to solving Teresa Hilt’s murder.
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